Five Google Tricks For Answering Those Little Questions

It's no secret that, as computer programs go, Google is pretty smart. But it's also pretty clever. Here are five tips for getting answers out of Google that you might not expect.
Published: May 21, 2008
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: OS X

1. Google can help you choose the right expression

English is a funny language, and it's easy to accidentally substitute a similar but incorrect phrase for the correct one. When you're unsure which phrase is correct, Google can often help out. Just type each phrase into Google, surrounded by quotation marks, and hit the Search button. When the results pop up, check out the number of results for each on the right; whichever has more results is probably correct. Say, for example, you're not sure if it's correct to say "I should of left earlier" or "I should have left earlier." Both sound almost identical when spoken quickly, hence the very common mix-up, but only one is correct. Google can tell us which it is:

Google 'should of'
Google 'should have'

As you can see, "should of" appears about 5.5 million times on the web sites Google has indexed, whereas "should have" appears 208 million times. We can reasonably confident that that means the latter usage is correct and former isn't.

2. Google can tell you if a foreign name is male or female

Many businesspeople now rely on email more than any other form of communication, and in the global marketplace it's not uncommon to find one's self corresponding with someone with an unfamiliar name. It's not necessary to guess about the gender of someone you haven't met and whose name is foreign to you, however--Google can help. To be more specific, it's Google Images that's the key to puzzling out foreign names. Just go to Google Images and type in the unknown party's first name and, with a bit of luck, a number of photos will appear and you'll be able to tell immediately if the name is most common for men or women. Here's what I got when I typed in "Prajuk," a Thai name unknown to me until today:

Google Images 'prajuk'

All men--that clears things up nicely. But I have a bonus tip for you: If your search happens to turn up a lot of photos that aren't of people, making it hard for you to make a decision, add the following to the end of the URL in your address bar: "&imgtype=face". This will make Google filter out everything except what it identifies as faces, which should simplify your job considerably.

Google Images faces

3. Google can tell you basic facts about history, time zones, holidays, and more

Want to know what time it is in Iceland's capital right now? Just Google "time in Reykjavik" (or, if you can't remember what the capital of Iceland is, "time in Iceland" will work just as well):

Google 'time in Reykjavik'

Want to know facts about historical figures and events? Just ask Google--queries like the following will often give you immediate answers:

Google George Lucas

Not every query will work, but you'll be surprised by how many do. The next time you have a question, just try it out--and if Google doesn't know the answer, chances are it'll be in the first couple results.

4. Google can convert currency for you

There are a lot of fine currency converters out there, like XE.com's Universal Currency Converter, but they've always seemed over-complicated to me. Can't I just type in "750 pesos in dollars" or "100 USD in Korean money"? Well, that's exactly what you can do with Google. Go ahead and try:

Google currency converter

What I love about Google's currency converter is that it will understand just about anything. If you know the name of the money--kroons or rupees or grivnas--you can type that, or if you know the abbreviation--USD, EUR, JPY--you can punch that in, or if you have no idea you can just type in the name of the country and money, like "Hong Kong money" or "Canadian money." and Google will figure it out.

5. Google can tell you who's calling

Ever have an unknown-to-you number show up on your caller ID over and over again and want to know who it is? Short of, well, answering the phone and asking the caller, your best bet is to ask Google. Just enter it in this format: (123) 456-7890, i.e. with the area code in parentheses followed by a space and the subsequent sets of numbers separated by a hyphen. Ordinarily Google ignores punctuation, but when you enter it like this Google recognizes it as a phone number and does a reverse phone book lookup. If it finds the number in its phone book, it'll tell you who it thinks it belongs to.

If that fails, Google will return its usual search results, but that can be just as useful, because Google will show you web pages that contain that string of numbers. If the number belongs to a business the business' site might appear. Also, several sites like 800Notes and WhoCallsMe? are dedicated to cataloging mysterious calls and if your mystery number has shown up on many other people's caller IDs, chances are some of them have logged the calls on one of those sites, and maybe even discovered who the caller is. Google indexes several of these sites and they'll often appear at the top of your search results. If Google seems to be showing you pages that contain only some of the numbers you entered, or the numbers in the wrong order, put them inside quotation marks.

Google area code searchFinally, if none of the above give you answers, Google can at least tell you what geographical region the number belongs to: Just punch in the area code by itself and Google will tell you where it's from.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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